Hillary Clinton Promotes Women's Rights Treaty That U.S. Has Not Yet Joined

Clinton Promotes Women's Rights Treaty That U.S. Has Not Joined

NEW YORK -- On the eve of high-level meetings for the United Nations' general assembly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended an event on Monday afternoon designed to highlight the importance of women's participation in public life.

Together with a selection of major female world leaders, including Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, and Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and the head of U.N. Women, Clinton put her name to a document calling for developing countries -- especially in the changing Middle East -- to clear the way for women to hold leadership roles.

The joint statement read:

We call upon all States to ratify and fulfill their obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to implement fully Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women and Peace and Security and other relevant UN resolutions.

There was only one problem: the United States is the only industrialized nation -- and one of only seven in the world -- that has not yet signed onto the CEDAW treaty.

Although Clinton did not mention America's conspicuous absence from the list of full CEDAW adherents, both she and President Obama have repeatedly stated they would like to see the treaty ratified in the Senate. But while CEDAW has been in the hands of the Senate for more than 30 years -- ever since President Jimmy Carter signed it in 1980 -- it has never so much as gotten a vote in the full chamber.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Melanne Verveer, the State Department's ambassador at large for global women's issues, described CEDAW as just one of many issues affecting women that has Clinton's personal attention, and said that the administration has "made its position very clear on this."

"I've testified that around the world, the number one question I'm asked is why hasn't the U.S. ratified CEDAW," Verveer said. "We would be much stronger if we could be in the right place, but it's up to the Senate."

Erin Matson, the action vice president at the National Organization for Women, calls it "an embarrassment that the U.S. has dragged its heels for so long on this issue."

"We are in horrible company," she added. "Most of the nations around the world have ratified CEDAW, and to think that it's gone 30 years since President Carter signed it, and asked for its ratification in the Senate, it's heartbreaking."

While she praised Clinton for her leadership on global women's rights issues, Matson said the administration's effort on the treaty has been lacking.

"Secretary of State Clinton is a champion for women's human rights around the world and has spoken forcefully in favor of prioritizing CEDAW ratification many times," Matson said.

"In terms of the president, we would love to see more of a commitment to this coming from the White House, from the president himself. The White House does support CEDAW. The question is, is the White House pushing on CEDAW right now? No."

Janet Benshoof, the president of the Global Justice Center and an advocate for women's rights worldwide, said one reason the treaty has struggled to get approval is that some legal analysts fear it may institute protections for controversial reproductive programs, particularly abortion.

As a result, previous versions of the treaty that have reached the Senate floor -- including one as recently as 2002 -- have included special riders that exempted abortion laws, and a handful of other provisions, from the treaty.

Passing a U.N. treaty that includes special exemptions would be an insult to the international community, not to mention it would sap the measure of its fundamental strength, Benshoof said.

"If we have a CEDAW that is like the last one, we don't need it," Benshoof said. "It does not send a signal to women of the world that America signs a treaty without intention of ever implementing it. It would be like signing a treaty against torture and putting in a clause excluding waterboarding."

In a recent Newsweek list of the best countries in the world for women, the United States ranked eighth overall, but it joined countries near the bottom of the list -- Iran (125th), Sudan (156th) -- in not being a signatory to CEDAW.

Asked if she thought the treaty might see passage soon, Verveer laughed.

"We've got to continue to be hopeful," she said. "I can't live without hope."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story implied the treaty had not yet been signed. The treaty was signed by President Carter, but it has not yet been ratified by the U.S. Congress.

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